The Salvation Army in Cuba
In 1918, Cuba and the United States were political allies. Trade between the two countries flourished. Guantanamo Bay had already been leased to the U.S. as part of the Platt Amendment of 1902, which among other things gave the U.S. the right to intervene militarily in Cuba.
General Mario G. Menocal, president of the Cuban Republic and a former manager of the Cuban American Sugar Corporation, announced that Cuba would join U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in declaring war against Germany at the start of WWI. Menocal had prepared 25,000 Cuban troops to set sail for Europe.
That same year, The Salvation Army officially launched its spiritual fight for the souls of the Cuban people, having already commenced its war on sin and poverty there as early as the 1890s.
In 1912, General William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, made his last public appearance in Royal Albert Hall in London on May 9. And on August 20, he was promoted to Glory.
His memory inspired Salvationists around the globe and in Cuba to continue the fight. Religious meetings and social services became the hallmark of the Army’s work on the island. And in 1918, the government’s campaign against the dreaded malaria virus was in full swing.
Then in 1953, the 26th of July Movement, led by Fidel and Raúl Castro, overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista during the Cuban Revolution (1953–59). As a result, Communism became the nation’s system of government.
That government required all foreign–born Salvation Army officers to leave the island. Many Cuban Salvationists also fled to the U.S. Under the new regime, Christianity was barely tolerated. President Castro recognized all churches that had been in Cuba prior to 1959, but rigorously restricted their activities.
The Army’s children’s homes closed. Open–air meetings, the sale of War Cry magazines, and the wearing of uniforms were prohibited. And because of these restrictions, the Army’s social work and church growth seemingly stopped.
By 1962, the United States had severed all diplomatic relations with Cuba, imposed a trade embargo, banned all U.S. citizens from traveling there, and had strongly encouraged other nations to do the same.
With all contact with the outside world essentially cut off, it was thought that Salvation Army ministry had ceased to exist in Cuba. For the first time, a remnant of Cuban Salvationists found themselves taking charge of a struggling movement that was determined nonetheless to remain alive—against all odds.
A great moment
In 1973, Salvation Army Major Francisco Ramires traveled from Cuba to Jamaica to attend a Christian Caribbean Conference of Churches. There he met Colonel John Needham, then commander of the Caribbean Territory. When Needham saw the Spanish words Ejército de Salvación written on Ramires’ hat, a conversation ensued. Ramires wrote down the names of the corps that still existed in Cuba. He explained that the training college was also still operating. And the numbers of Salvationists were actually growing, mainly through the courageous sharing of personal testimonies.
Needham looked at Ramires in disbelief, but also with gratitude. They both thanked God for His faithfulness and asked Him to bless and to guide The Salvation Army in Cuba.*
*The War Cry, February 7, 1998
by Warren L. Maye